These authors are putting the dark in dark romancePlay
Romance books bring to mind an image of a pastel cover with two people’s soft silhouettes and slight hints at the plot of that particular love story. The cover of a dark romance book, however, tends to be much more mysterious — often in line with its plot.
Dark romance is a subgenre of romance novels with darker themes and mature content. These stories often come with content warnings, morally-gray characters and plots riddled with trauma and violence. Popular tropes that make up a chunk of these novels include mafia, stalking and kidnappings.
There’s also an element of darker sexual themes, with these novels exploring all sorts of taboo kinks, including — but most certainly not limited to — BDSM, dubious consent and knife-play.
Best-selling dark romance writers Ana Huang, author of the “Twisted” series, and Rina Kent, author of the “Royal Elite” series (among many others), explain the components of this genre and how, at the end of the day, it is still romance.
On what they consider dark romance
Ana Huang: “I think dark romance is subjective, but to me, it is books that have darker themes and characters. So, this is where you see a lot of anti-heroes and villains positioned as protagonists; where there may be psychological or physical trauma depicted on page, as well as villains. [It’s] more like heavier emotions than in classic contemporary romances at the end of the day.”
On writing plots and characters that are not always socially acceptable
Rina Kent: “I think I speak for at least a portion of dark romance readers, we were never really interested in the heroes [when] growing up. We really loved the anti-heroes. So we feel like these heroes are much hotter for us. They are much more interesting, I would say, because they're different. They're not in the norm ... and it's okay because many women love it.”
Huang: “These books tend to dive a little deeper into all sorts of themes that are not necessarily ‘socially acceptable,’ at least in the mainstream. But there are plenty of people that have these fantasies. Because these themes are heavier, people go into these books already in the headspace to engage with that type of content, whereas it can be a little bit more jarring to explore those kinks in a very, like, fluffy light romance. But this is in line with the themes.”
On challenging the notion that this genre fetishizes violence against women
Huang: “At the end of the day, it is fiction and I think that the people who read it should be able to critically enjoy it because they know these themes are bad in real life. Fiction is a safe way to explore those fantasies and experience these visceral emotions without them actually being in danger the same way it goes for any other type of entertainment. The action movies that kind of glorify all of this violence … they don't really think about the civilians that get caught in the way — or the TV shows that feature serial killers as the protagonist. I mean, all of these glorify themes that are not great in real life, but the people who see them understand that they can be entertaining without condoning them in reality.”
Kent: “I have very strong opinions about this because I feel like dark romance, romance in general, is very frowned upon. And for me, it's a form of subconscious misogyny [or] blatant misogyny because it's a genre for women, mostly written by women. And society in general doesn't want women to express what they want, so whatever is not proper or morally correct is frowned upon. Whereas we don't frown upon incest in ‘Game of Thrones’... we don't frown upon horror. We don't think people who love Stephen King are going to turn into crazy killers — but if you like dark romance, you're going to be morally incorrect. It is definitely a double standard and I hope we do better. And I am all for normalizing this.”
On how this genre is still romance:
Huang: “I think at the end of the day, it is a story that ends in hope. It's about how these people survive the dark situations they were in and overcome their trauma to find their happily ever after. And I think there is a sense of great emotional catharsis that comes at the end of that, which is what I think separates dark romance from something that is, you know, either a horror or like a dark thriller, is that sense of hope.”
If this conversation has piqued your interest in the dark romance genre, look no further for recommendations! Please check content warnings for each of these books before proceeding.
From our authors:
- Kent recommends Anna Zaires’ “Tormentor Mine” series, which follows an ex-Russian spetsnaz who is seeking vengeance on behalf of his dead family by torturing, and eventually falling in love, with the wife of one of the men responsible for his family’s deaths.
- Huang recommends the “Mindf***” series by S.T. Abby. The book features a romance between a female serial killer and an FBI agent. Huang says, “It’ll keep you glued to the pages.”
From producer and avid dark romance reader Hafsa Quraishi:
- The “Sinners Anonymous” series by Somme Sketcher, for all those who love an overprotective hero, who is also in the mafia.
- “Pen Pal” by J.T. Geissinger, is a great read for anyone interested in mystery and paranormal activity. This book had me crying on my Instagram close friends story, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.
- The “Dark Verse” series by RuNyx follows different characters throughout the series, who are all part of an interwoven storyline involving the mob. The plot is intriguing and the sexual tension and slow-burn is unreal.
- Katee Roberts’ “Dark Olympus” series is great for fans of Greek mythology. These modern retellings featuring Greek gods and goddesses are deliciously spicy and feature plus size heroines.
- The “Kingdom of the Wicked” series by Kerri Maniscalco will satisfy those who are more into the fantasy genre.
- “Haunting Adeline” — and its sequel, “Hunting Adeline” — by H.D. Carlton will shock even the more experienced dark romance readers with its graphic descriptions of violence and sex. The hero, Zade, is the epitome of morally gray. Definitely not recommended for beginner dark romance readers.
- Quraishi has read many of Huang’s and Kent’s books as well and personally recommends “Twisted Lies” by Huang, the fourth installment of Huang’s “Twisted” series, and the “Deception” trilogy by Kent.
Welcome to the dark side!
Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Quraishi adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on February 17, 2023.